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Some web design and development projects client's will request capabilities for a foreign translation in their site.

  • How can you account for this and what are some good practices for content mockup?
  • If a client supplies content are you to take the English version and go to Google translate and translate every requested language and design accordingly?
  • Do you design and code each .css file for each language if you are wanting the best possible result?
  • When providing a mockup to the client do you provide the translated edition or just the English?
  • Is it a bad idea to not guarantee or require a sign-off for your design if you don't speak the foreign language in question?
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3 Answers 3

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Good question.

I've never done web design in multiple languages. Well, not manually. I've used some multi-language CMS template packs like Smarty. I honestly don't know how well they work though. And it ultimately wasn't any concern. I've never had a client specifically ask for web design in a language other than English.

However......

I have done print design in languages I don't speak. Or rather, reworked English designs into other languages at the client's request. When doing so I make it abundantly clear that while I can replace English text with any language. I will not be responsible for translation. The client must provide translated text which clearly describes what section of English is replaced by what section of the other language and the basic processes is copy/pasting text to match the original design as close as possible. In addition, I make it known, in writing with a contract addendum, that my office is in no way to be held responsible for typographical errors or translation errors. It is the sole responsibility of the client to proof read and verify all translations.

Now, I take this stance because I can afford to. Translated text is merely a hoop I don't wish to jump through. If a client wants that service, and they don't want to be responsible for the translation themselves, then can seek some other designer/design firm to complete the work. In the end, I want my clients to be happy but I can't afford to spend weeks looking for a trustworthy translator and then be held responsible if there's a mistake I could not possibly know about. And, do it once you'll be doing it often in many cases.

Under no circumstance would I trust any automated translator such as Google translate. You can see how bad that is just by occasionally using it on text you find on the internet. There are translation services where you can hire a human translator (often a native speaker of the language you need) which are much more accurate than any automated service due to the knowledge of casual/formal use or slang in their native tongue. Using human translators also provides the opportunity to convey "mood" to the translator. You may not want a strict word-for-word translation. You may want the text to read more casual and only native speaking humans can help accomplish that task.

For comic relief....

I recently purchased a small little bug zapper which apparently shipped from China. Interesting packaging (this is unretouched)...

Zapper

Right-click/Control-click the image and open it in a new window/tab to read it better :)

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+1 for "I make it known, in writing... sole responsibility of the client to proof read and verify all translations" - before and again after the design work is done. For some horror stories of what can go wrong and how much reputation damage it can cause, see this question on Arabic in Adobe software then follow the links to BBC articles in the comments. Best quote: "...what was written would be the equivalent of an English language sign intending to say "welcome to London", instead saying "N O D N O L O T E M O C L E W"." –  user568458 Jun 24 '13 at 13:49
    
.. and Nos Mo King! –  Scott Jun 27 '13 at 21:02

I have worked on some sites that have been translated into several languages, so I hope I can provide some insight.

How can you account for this and what are some good practices for content mockup?

Some of it is just common sense, like don't put any words in an image because then you can't translate it. Instead, store everything on the page as a series of strings, then have a corresponding file for each language. This is also called localization. And it should be architected into your code base from the beginning. This isn't exactly something to do later after you've created the site in English.

If a client supplies content are you to take the English version and go to Google translate and translate every requested language and design accordingly?

Google translate will not be good enough. Good translation is done by an expert in context. For example, on one page we were translating into Spanish, an editor explained to me that the gender for a specific word is normally feminine but because it appeared as a link on a page it needed to be masculine. This was way above me because I don't know Spanish, which emphasizes that a translator is essential if you want any amount of quality.

I know Japanese, and I know google translate is absolutely horrible in Japanese.

Do you design and code each .css file for each language if you are wanting the best possible result?

I wouldn't recommend this because it's just not scaleable. When you translate your content into other languages the biggest problem is you will have shorter or longer text depending on the language. For example Spanish is roughly a quarter again as large as the English. And Simplified Chinese takes up a lot less space. So I would include CSS attributes like "max-width" and "min-width" and QA your site with really long and really short paragraphs and titles to make sure it's versatile.

When providing a mockup to the client do you provide the translated edition or just the English?

In my experience and with my clients, I have gone through and done everything in English first but included the coding infrastructure to enable translations. I even publish the site. Then I go back with my client and work on translation. But if your clients know the other language (mine didn't) then I would ask them what they would like.

Is it a bad idea to not guarantee or require a sign-off for your design if you don't speak the foreign language in question?

If they provide the content, does it really matter? It would be smart to make sure you aren't doing design for a site with content you're not comfortable about, but you could plug the content they provide into Google translate to get a good enough translation if you are worried about that.

ALSO: The best site I've seen that handles translation into 100 languages is www.lds.org. Use the globe icon at the top of the page to select the language. You'll notice that not all their content is translated into every language, so they have an advanced custom software to enable certain content in certain languages.

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Great answer! And great idea of using the Mormon church as an example of good practice - regardless of anyone's views on their theology, there's no denying that they're very good at working with many languages. –  user568458 Jun 28 '13 at 12:12

Re translation: I must second Scott. Translation into a foreign language by a reputable service requires at minimum a translator (who should be a native speaker), an editor, and a proofreader. Translating is not merely replacing words; it's also understanding idiom and context. (As an example, "blockhead" in English translates to "testa di cipuda" in Sicilian, which means onionhead.)

Unless translation was a major part of my business, I would refuse anything to do with that end of it. I would insist that the client find their own translation and provide me with the copy. If translation were a major part of my work, then I'd expend the time to research a reputable service and develop a relationship with them so I could trust their work.

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idiom.. that was the word I was searching for and couldn't recall :) –  Scott Jun 24 '13 at 9:54

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